If the GDP is Up, Why is America Down?

In If the GDP is Up, Why is America Down?, the authors identify “shifting functions from the traditional realm of household and community to the realm of the monetized economy” as a bogus contribution to GDP growth. They then give some numbers from the US as examples, such as how much day care adds to GDP ($4B, by the way, according to the article). Day care is presented as yet one more thing that’s wrong with the world today, and at first glance it sounded like it should be a pretty straight-forward example…

The more I thought about it though, the more I think it illustrates how much further there is to go before arriving at an accurate alternative measurement framework. Assuming $4B is the appropriate cost to apply, how do you separate out how much of that $4B is actually bad? When the family has no choice and would rather not leave their children in day care, when the children have a bad experience and dread going every day, it’s fairly easy to call the expense “bad” and insist that the money spent should be recognized as a cost in measurements like the GPI. When day care serves a community building function, when parents believe their children are benefitting from the experience and the children look forward to a couple hours in a social setting every day, does it count as positive? A luxury good, even? How can you determine whether there is genuine value added, without incurring prohibitive cost gathering the information? And at that point, does the cost of gathering the information to compile the GPI get backed out of the GPI too??

It’s amazing how many things start to look grey once you start really thinking about them. For instance, if you go on to become a fantastic motivational speaker based on your experience as a cancer survivor, and inspire thousands of people, would the illness itself still be considered “bad”?

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Posted in ecological footprint, economic development, sustainable development

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